Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winners should win, losers should lose

One voter, one vote is a simple procedure when it comes to electing a president. It would be great if we actually used it.

With the Electoral College system that the nation now uses, electing a president is complicated and occasionally unfair and undemocratic. In all states but Maine and Nebraska, the presidential candidate who wins in that state receives all of the state’s votes in the Electoral College. Because winners are determined state by state, not by tallying the national vote, there is no guarantee that the candidate with the most popular votes wins.

Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Andrew Jackson and Al Gore were winners of the national vote who became losers because of this system.

Currently just confusing, this system now threatens to be—by design—something more sinister. Tinkering by governors and legislators where Republicans hold majorities in state offices could make the Electoral College permanently unfair to all Americans by rigging the system to trump the popular vote.

The proposal is that electoral votes in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin would be awarded by congressional district. Those states voted for Obama in 2012 but all have a majority of their congressional seats held by Republicans. Votes in solidly red states, like Texas, or solidly blue states, like California, would remain under the current winner-take-all system. In other words, the electoral fix would be in. The change would tilt the scales in favor of Republican candidates and more rural states while stealing even more control from voters.

Had these changes been in place in the last election, Obama would have received only 10 of Michigan’s Electoral College votes while Romney would have picked up 6. In the end, President Obama would have won the 2012 popular vote by the 5 million votes, a landslide by recent standards, but would have lost the Electoral College tally. Romney would have been declared the president.

The intricacies and political maneuvering of drawing congressional districts, which states are and are not swing states, and which political party controls state government all play into the process of gaming the arcane Electoral College system.

When a candidate is a clear winner of a large majority of votes in a national election but still loses, the result looks more like a coup than an election. Ordinary citizens lose respect for the democratic process.

The best solution is to amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College. Failing that, Idaho should follow the nine states that have adopted laws in which the state’s electors must vote unanimously for the national popular vote winner. The winner wins, the loser loses and American voters prevail.

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